The name pretty much says it all: the Israeli company NewCO2Fuels has developed a solar powered carbon capture process that converts carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen, which are reclaimed and processed into fuels. The basic concept is well proven, so the real question now is, can the products resulting from carbon capture and recycling compete in commercial markets with fossil-based products.
Since NewCO2Fuels has just completed the first phase of tests for the new system, now is a good time to check in and see how they’re doing.
We had a chance to meet up with NewCO2Fuels during a technology tour of Israel sponsored by the organization Kinetis, but other than that the company has been flying under our radar (as has its parent company, Australia’s Greenearth Energy Limited), so let’s recap a bit.
NewCO2Fuels was founded in 2011 with the goal of developing a cost-effective CO2-to-fuel reactor, made so partly by the use of solar thermal energy to power the process. The system also integrates a process for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Another fuel source for powering the system is industrial waste heat, which expands the field of potential sites beyond solar-friendly locations.
Also contributing to the cost-effectiveness of the new system is the use of components and materials that can be manufactured with existing processes.
The technology is based on eight years worth of research at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, resulting in the successful demonstration that CO2 can be dissociated into carbon monoxide and oxygen under high temperatures, as part of an integrated process leading to fuel production.
The Weismann Institute is also responsible for the solar technology used in the process, which enables the creation of a stable source of heat up to 1200 degrees centigrade.
As for GreenEarth Energy, the company is best known for its geothermal ventures but it has been branching out into other renewable energy technologies.
So Far, So Good on CO2-to-Fuel
The Stage 1 test simulated industrial waste heat sources. Compared to a 2010 laboratory demonstration, the dissociation rate of the system was increased by a factor of 200 and the cost was reduced by a factor of 34.
Based on the success of Stage 1, Greenearth Energy Managing Director Samuel Marks has this to say about the prospects for commercial development:
This is an extremely exciting step towards our final goal of not only proving the science behind the CO2 disassociation process at scale, but also its financial viability. This now proven concept has the potential to create, quite literally, a paradigm shift in the way society views and deals with our global CO2 challenges.
That sounds pretty good but we’re more interested in the Stage 2 test, which is already under way and is expected to be completed in February.
In this round of testing, NewCo2Fuels expects another significant increase in the dissociation rate, while powering the system with solar thermal energy.
Carbon Capture Roundup
Some time in the sparkling green future, power generation and other industrial processes will be totally or nearly free of greenhouse gas emissions related to fossil fuels (see also the West Virginia chemical spill for other ripple effects), but until then emissions capture technologies will play a significant role in steering the global economy off a path toward catastrophic global warming.
If you’re wondering if the US is just sitting there twiddling its thumbs while all this has been going on, actually there has been some progress (we mean progress aside from simple carbon capture and sequestration, which we are not particularly fans of to say the least).
LanzaTech, for example, just won $4 million from the US Department of Energy’s ARPA-E cutting edge technology funding agency, to adapt its bioreactor-based emissions capture system into a modular system that could be transported to remote locations including coal mines, gas and oil fields, and landfills.
Another technology we’ve been following is the “Pepto-Bismol” process under development at the University of Delaware. It involves bismuth, the relatively common substance from which the popular over-the-counter medication derives its name, as a low cost electrocatalyst for converting carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.
Looking back a step, under the 2009 Recovery Act the Department of Energy got $1.4 billion to distribute for new carbon capture projects from industrial sources, some of which went to a cluster of 12 innovative “beneficial reuse” carbon capture projects.
Aside from capturing and converting carbon dioxide into fuels, the projects included using carbon emissions to grow algae for fuel.
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